Emails Should Do More Than Inform
Recognition is at the heart of everything Turnkey provides for peer-to-peer clients. Recognition manifests in many forms—products, personal outreach, social media call outs, thank-you notes and more. The whole point of recognition is to install and reinforce a self-label.
Turnkey’s in-house behavioral expert, Otis Fulton, informs us that the term “self-label” comes from psychology, specifically an area called self-perception theory, which dates back to the 1960s. One important finding involves the power of nouns over verbs. Using nouns results in stronger preferences on the part of the reader.
For example, for their study "Being What You Say: The Effect of Essentialist Linguistic Labels on Preferences," researchers Gregory M. Walton and Mahzarin R. Banaji had subjects read statements like:
- Jennifer drinks coffee a lot.
- Jennifer spends a lot of time indoors.
- Jennifer watches baseball a lot.
This first set of statements emphasizes the verbs. Other participants were shown slightly different statements:
- Jennifer is a coffee-drinker.
- Jennifer is an indoors person.
- Jennifer is a baseball fan.
These statements emphasize the nouns.
The second set of statements impacted participants more strongly. Although both sets of statements convey the same meaning, by using nouns the reader was given a better idea about Jennifer. Instead of answering the question, "what does Jennifer do?", they tell the reader who Jennifer is.
When we recognize someone for supporting a nonprofit, we don’t thank that person for doing something, we thank them for being something. We know that this will result in a stronger connection to the organization.
Julian May, Turnkey’s ace creative director, saw it this way:
“A key factor of how email copy helps strengthen a person's self-label is that it acts as a private conversation between the participant and the nonprofit.
“In emails, we use singular subject pronouns that emphasize that the message content is a direct statement from the nonprofit to the recipient, directly addressing their fundraising situation. Rather than making the recipient feel like only a part of a whole, this allows them to recognize themselves as an individually valuable member of the nonprofit's network.
“In many ways, emails are a form of recognition, acknowledging the fundraising progress of the individual and cheering them on to their next goal. Receiving this recognition directly from the nonprofit in reaction to their action creates a positive experience for the participant that enriches and encourages their fundraising journey while also solidifying their self-label as a cause warrior.”
- Email content is a form of recognition that can help create and reinforce a self-label.
- When you are behind the eight ball and on deadline, ask smart people for help (writing your blog). Thanks, guys.
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.